House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was relationship.


InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL


That, in the opinion of the House, the government should work co-operatively with the governments of the territories and of the seven provinces which constitute the Provincial North, and with Aboriginal and local governments in these regions, to develop a strategy to improve transportation and other vital public infrastructure.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to move Motion No. 298, which calls on the federal government to work with the territories and the provinces which make up the provincial north as well as local and aboriginal governments to come up with a common strategy for infrastructure in northern regions of Canada.

I am especially pleased as a member whose riding is in a geographically northern region but outside the territories which are most commonly thought of as the north to include the provincial north within the scope of this motion.

The definition of provincial north is open to different definitions. Perhaps the best and most thorough work on the concept of northerness or nordicity has been done by geographer and scholar Louis-Edmond Hamelin at Laval University.

The north that I am asking members of this House to think about today is the region of Canada which includes the three territories but also the northern portions of seven provinces, from the Stikine and Peace River regions of B.C., across the northern prairies, across the three provinces which ring Hudson's and James Bay through to Labrador.

These regions share many of the geographical challenges of the territories, such as scattered populations, areas with few or no roads, and reliance on air transportation or seasonal modes of transport, such as ice roads or shipping in the ice-free period of the year. They share many economic similarities, especially the importance of natural resource industries from traditional hunting, fishing and trapping through to modern industrial forestry, mining and petroleum exploration and development.

There are many cultural similarities, communities which share a deep attachment to the land, an understanding of isolation and a strong sense of place. There are social and demographic similarities, including many small communities with large service centres serving outlying populations.

The territories and the provincial north, as well, have large populations of Inuit, Métis and first nations people. For this reason my motion calls for their inclusion in the development of a northern infrastructure strategy. At a time when Canada and the entire world face economic uncertainty, all governments have been looking toward infrastructure investment as a way to stimulate the economy. This is another unstated purpose behind the motion I am proposing today.

I can well appreciate that members from southern and urban ridings look to projects such as transit and urban renewal as economic stimulus in the form of infrastructure. Without taking anything away from those equally legitimate needs, it is important that Canadians in other regions, in other kinds of communities also share in infrastructure development and modernization.

My home community of Williams Harbour on an island off the coast of Labrador does not need a subway, however, we do need a new wharf to replace one that was destroyed by fire a few years ago. It is a project that is overdue and which I hope has not been held up by any jurisdictional squabbles between provincial and federal governments.

My current hometown of Happy Valley Goose Bay does not need light rail transit, but we do need a new airport terminal and improved highway connections to the rest of Labrador, the rest of the province, and to Quebec and the rest of Canada.

This motion is about co-operation and coordination and respects the jurisdictions of all governments. There is to be no intrusion by the federal government on provincial, municipal or aboriginal government powers. In fact, I am calling on the federal government to exercise its own powers, operate its own programs, and provide its own services as they relate to infrastructure but in co-operation with the provinces, the territories and local governments.

Intergovernmental co-operation on infrastructure is vitally important throughout the northern parts of Canada. In northern Quebec, I would draw to the attention of hon. members the agreement by the federal government and the government of Quebec to extend the runway at Puvirnituq in Nunavik. I would also point to the construction of the highway to Natashquan, completed in the 1990s through a Canada-Quebec accord and through the Quebec government's attempts to secure federal funding for route 389, which also connects to Labrador.

This is not a matter of intrusion on provincial jurisdiction but rather co-operation. We have seen the same need for co-operation in my own riding of Labrador. Over the years the federal government has played an important role in infrastructure development in our region.

The coastal airstrips were built in the 1970s and 1980s through federal contributions. Without that involvement by the federal government, Labrador's coastal communities would likely still depend on float planes and ice runways with long interruptions in service between freeze-up and break-up.

Federal funding was instrumental in the construction of roll on/roll off wharves which modernized marine transportation in coastal Labrador. Federal funding has been critical for the development of our highway transportation system.

Whether it was the construction of the Labrador Straits highway more than 30 years ago or the construction of the Trans-Labrador Highway, it has been the federal government which has in fact paid the largest share of highway construction in Labrador.

In fact, at times it has been the provincial government which has failed to put its fair share back into Labrador. I would hope that that era is over and that Labrador can expect a return on its contribution to the public purse. All levels must step up to the plate. There can be no laggards.

At the same time, with so many infrastructure projects competing for funding, political priority and public attention, it is more important than ever that governments work together instead of a cross purposes or ignoring the need all together.

I appreciate the recent federal contribution toward the Trans-Labrador Highway which continues the work that was truly made possible by the 1997 Labrador transportation initiative; an injection of over $340 million in federal funding which allowed the Trans-Labrador Highway to reach the state of completion it has today.

By the end of this year it should be possible for the first time in our history to drive an unbroken highway from Labrador City to L'Anse au Clair. This will be a historic moment for Labrador and one that is only possible because the federal and provincial governments worked together.

I hope that federal-provincial disputes will not preclude further work in our region, including much needed upgrades such as resurfacing, and the widening and paving of the full Trans-Labrador Highway, phases I, II and III, and new road connections.

The Nunatsiavut government, which represents Labrador Inuit, has also expressed an interest in studying the possibility of tying northern Labrador into the highway system. I would hope that the provincial and federal governments would work with Nunatsiavut on this study. This is a perfect example of the type of federal, provincial or territorial and aboriginal government cooperation which I have in mind in proposing this motion.

This kind of cooperation is also a vital means of exercising Canadian power and jurisdiction in our Arctic and sub-Arctic regions.

There is something to be said for the exercise of military, police, coast guard and other shows of hard power or force by way of proving Canadian jurisdiction in the north. I remind the government that Goose Bay which has commanded the northeastern air routes from Canada and North America since the 1940s still seeks a renewed role in Canada's military and security interests in the north.

The defence minister made specific promises and we have not forgotten. However, while recognizing our security interests, I would question the assumptions behind the Prime Minister's repeated assertions that when it comes to the north Canada has to use it or lose it.

In fact, aboriginal Canadians, Inuit, Inuvialuit, first nations and Métis, have been using the Arctic and the north for countless generations. It is narrow-minded and somewhat ethnocentric to suggest that we risk losing the north because we have not been using it.

The real political risk in our northern regions is not so much that other countries could threaten us with military force or incursions into our jurisdiction. The real risk comes from political alienation, when northerners, from the territories and the often forgotten provincial north, fail to feel included. The real risk is a rise of cleavages or divisions when northern people are neglected even as their lands and resources are highly prized. Northern people in the territories and the provinces, aboriginal and all others who call northern Canada home have to be brought more fully into the Canadian family.

That happens when our governments work together to improve the basics: the roads, airports and harbours that link the northern and southern economies. It includes the vital infrastructure of modern life, such as water treatment, sewage disposal and energy and communications infrastructure.

Those are the kinds of developments which will constitute Canada using the north and those are the kinds of projects, especially now that infrastructure is such a hot topic and economic stimulus such an important goal, that northerners need. The north and south alike will benefit when all orders of government work together to improve the basic public infrastructure in the Arctic and sub-arctic regions of our country.

That means improved access to markets for northern goods and improved access to northern resources for the economy in the south. It means increased access to southern services by people in the north and easier access to the north by tourists and other visitors. It means improving living standards for aboriginal and all northern residents. It means improved health care, more doctors, more nurses and vital social infrastructure.

It means the preservation of our culture, our way of life and sharing with one another. When it comes to sharing, it means building, not diminishing institutions like the CBC. It means environmental protection and proper regulatory regimes. It means respect for aboriginal people.

This motion calls for a vision. It says that we do not only pay attention to the north at election time or for one-off announcements, or for the north to feel valued only when someone somewhere else wants something for their own purposes.

The motion calls on government to work with us to make Canada more complete, more whole. The strength of a nation lies in its people. When the people feel stronger, the nation is stronger. The motion is about home for myself and hundreds of thousands of other northern Canadians who know in our hearts and minds that true, integral, sincere efforts will yield positive outcomes.

A strategy and implementation of that strategy is what the motion calls for. It is about honouring our commitment to the north and it is needed now as much as any time in our history.

InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for the motion he has put forward. It is a motion that in many respects is a good one. It speaks to a number of areas where, of course, there has to be a national policy, but there is a significant difference between the northern territories and the northern parts of the provinces. Any strategy that diminishes the efforts and the importance of the federal effort to the northern territories in terms of governance, in terms of the responsibilities that actually lie within Parliament and can be expressed through Parliament, will have difficulty.

Does the hon. member not see the importance to the northern territories of having policy that can drive those territories toward their goals of responsible government?

InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, there is no presumption within the motion, or any diminishment of our three territories. It does call for their full inclusion. It does call for the voice of those in our three territories to be honoured and to be respected. It also says though that there are similarities between other northern regions. We cannot divide people based only on a certain boundary. If a person lives in a community 50 kilometres north, in the Northwest Territories, or in a community a little farther south, the same aspirations would be shared along with the same challenges.

I do not really believe that we can have a fully comprehensive strategy if we do not include all northern people. We can give something to each other. We can strengthen each other. There is no presumption nor diminishment of the Northwest Territories, Yukon or Nunavut in the motion. In fact, it raises them up.

InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague made an excellent speech with respect to his motion. I would like to ask the member a question about something which I think disturbs us all.

In Nunavut the level of substance abuse is extremely high. The level of involvement of first nations people and the Government of Nunavut is actually very low, despite the fact that governments of Canada have put in large amounts of money into Nunavut.

My hon. colleague has a lot of experience and knowledge in this regard. What solutions could the member offer to deal with the horrible social challenges that affect many communities in the north? How would he restructure the relationship between Nunavut specifically and the Government of Canada to enable the people of Nunavut to reap the rewards of the vast swath of resources that exist in that area? How could we improve the relationship between the territories, Nunavut, Nunavik and the Government of Canada for the people of the north?

InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, when there are challenges, we always want to find solutions, but the solutions must come from the people themselves. They know themselves, their land, their communities and what they have to go through better than we will ever know the issue or study it or understand it. The solutions must come from the people themselves. In terms of solutions, I leave it to them, but I also invite all colleagues to come forward with suggestions.

When we talk about relationships, the issue of devolution in Nunavut, as it is in the other territories, is an important process that must continue and be accelerated.

InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to highlight some of the important work that is already under way across northern Canada. This work is stimulating local economies, creating jobs and improving our vital infrastructure.

Before I begin, however, I want to commend my colleague, the member for Labrador, for bringing attention and focus to this important issue. This government agrees that it is vital to invest in infrastructure nationwide, particularly in the north. This will improve the quality of life for both aboriginal and non-aboriginal residents and will attract important economic development to the region.

As someone who represents a riding in southern Manitoba, I am also an individual who has lived in a northern community in Manitoba. I appreciate the challenges and benefits of living in a northern community and I thank my hon. colleague very much for bringing this motion forward.

A key element of this government's northern strategy is to develop the necessary infrastructure to encourage economic growth and create employment opportunities for northerners. We have been developing on this commitment in a number of ways.

Our government has put in place the tools for the final commercial decision on the largest northern infrastructure project now in development, the Mackenzie gas project. The proposed 1,220 kilometre natural gas pipeline system along the Mackenzie Valley of Canada's Northwest Territories will connect northern on-shore gas fields with North American markets.

This enormous private sector project will create employment and benefits for northerners and is central to realizing the full economic and social potential of Canada's north. Consistent with its role as owner of the resource, the Government of Canada is prepared to engage in the project with respect to the financial framework.

Much of the infrastructure development in the north is private sector driven. Therefore, the establishment of a national P3 office to assist Canadians in pursuing an innovative P3 project and accessing the $1.26 billion national fund for private-public partnerships will also help northerners.

More recently, budget 2009, Canada's economic action plan, announced a total of $1.4 billion in new investments to address the priorities of aboriginal people. This funding includes $515 million to address priority on-reserve infrastructure needs. Of these funds, $200 million will go to the construction of 10 new schools on reserves, as well as three major school renovation projects.

A further $165 million is earmarked for drinking water and waste water infrastructure projects. Another $150 million over the next two years will be used for construction and the renovation of first nations critical community service infrastructure. I am talking about things like health clinics, nurses' residences and policing infrastructure, which are very important for both aboriginal and non-aboriginal people living in the north.

All of these investments will stimulate economic and community development across northern Canada. As much as they will spur economic activity, they are equally important because of the positive impact these expenditures have on the health and safety and quality of life of residents living in these communities.

In addition, our economic action plan sets aside $400 million to address the pressing need for housing on reserves. Construction and renovation work will bring immediate and long-term benefits for first nations families and children. As well, our action plan includes significant investments in social housing off reserve. For example, there is $200 million in dedicated funding to support the renovation and construction of housing units in the territories.

I want to be clear that these are not the first or only federal infrastructure investments in northern Canada, which also includes provinces with northern concerns. Since 2006, this government has taken action on multiple fronts to accelerate infrastructure development in remote areas of the country. For instance, let me highlight some of the infrastructure development taking place through the first nations infrastructure fund.

The fund was created in October 2007 to meet infrastructure needs both on reserve and with non-first nations partners, such as neighbouring municipalities. The joint initiative of this fund pools $131 million over five years to support infrastructure development in first nations communities. The fund can be used for projects in eligible categories, such as solid waste management, roads and bridges, and energy systems. All of these investments serve to improve the quality of life for local residents while simultaneously making their communities more attractive places to live and to do business.

The first nations infrastructure fund supports the Government of Canada's goal of providing stable and reliable funding to provinces, territories and aboriginal governments so they can plan for the longer term. To date, our government has invested $62 million nationwide in 76 roads and bridges projects, setting the stage for greater involvement of many remote and northern communities in the economic life of this country.

Canada's economic action plan also includes regional funding for the territories. For example, there is $50 million over five years for a new economic development agency for the north. Ultimately, this agency will coordinate all federal economic development programs and services in this region. In addition, the action plan invests $90 million over five years for strategic investments in northern economic development, SINED. This initiative will promote sustainable economic growth in the north.

Territorial governments alongside aboriginal governments and organizations, municipal governments, colleges and chambers of commerce, to name just a few, have been key partners in the development of the past generations of SINED investment plans. They have also been heavily involved in the implementation of many of these projects, either as proponents or co-funders. A new set of investment plans is being negotiated right now.

Much has been done to improve northern regulatory regimes, one of the best ways to promote the northern environment and generate enduring economic and social development in this region. This government is already making significant progress in improving transportation and other vital public infrastructure in Canada's north, and clearly, we can continue to make a measurable difference in the lives of northern Canadians by moving along this productive path.

Our government will continue to work co-operatively with the governments of the territories and of the seven provinces that have northern regions. We will also continue to work closely with aboriginal and local governments in these regions to advance our shared objective of creating a more vibrant economy and producing a better quality of life for northern Canadians.

Working together, I am confident that we can continue to improve transportation and other vital public infrastructure in the north, and support the development of long-term infrastructure required in each province and territory to achieve this goal. I for one am wholly committed to this.

InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, as we have known for some time, communities in northern Quebec, like those in the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut, are in desperate need of infrastructure.

When it comes to poorly adapted, inadequate transportation infrastructure, to the housing shortage that is at the root of serious social problems, or to any kind of infrastructure that is essential to the well-being and development of any community, but is typically minimal or even non-existent, it is clear that one federal government after another has neglected the north.

There is a high cost to such neglect, not only in terms of dollars, but also, and more importantly, in terms of heavy social costs. This problem cannot be solved overnight. Updating and developing northern infrastructure will require the kind of significant, stable and predictable financial support that is seriously lacking right now.

These vital investments must be tailored to meet the needs of people living in the north. They must also be integrated with money promised by the provinces and the Government of Quebec.

The motion before us today calls on the government to develop “a strategy to improve transportation and other vital public infrastructure” in cooperation with Quebec and the provinces, as well as with “local governments”.

While it is a good idea to consult with the target populations despite having ignored them for so long, such consultations have to follow the rules.

And the rules are simple: in Quebec, the Government of Quebec is the interlocutor for local Nunavik governments.

The Government of Quebec is in the best position to assess the needs of its people and to connect them to the right funding programs. The Government of Quebec is also in the best position to consult target aboriginal communities and economic, institutional and social stakeholders, and to get them involved in the decision-making process.

In far too many cases, the federal government has interfered with the cooperative relationship between Quebec and the communities involved, a relationship that is critical to harmonious and stable development.

Every federal government, whether Liberal or Conservative, has always adopted a brand of federalism that some have called predatory. Moreover, they have ignored Quebec's jurisdiction and have interfered in areas that are none of their business, such as education, health and municipal affairs. That interference does not help anyone, because all it does is make a mess of programs.

The last federal budget clearly shows the unscrupulous character of the federal government when it come to intervening directly with the municipalities. It is allocating $2 billion to provide loans directly to the municipalities, going over the heads of the governments of Quebec and the provinces, even though they are the ones who will ultimately be responsible for whatever is built.

In the past, as we have seen, certain federal infrastructure programs have allowed some of the larger municipalities to build themselves two or three new arenas, for example. Unfortunately, those three arenas are no longer profitable at this time, and we have a good example of that in Quebec.

In short, if the federal government goes ahead with the development of an infrastructure strategy for the north, it must cooperate with Quebec and the provinces, and not deal with the municipalities directly, since they do not fall under federal jurisdiction.

Yet nowhere in the motion before us do we find any indication that the federal government has understood that there are limitations on its actions. On the contrary, the text of the motion implies and even suggests that the federal government could develop this infrastructure strategy in cooperation with local governments, that is, with the municipalities, even though neither the municipalities nor the infrastructure fall under federal jurisdiction.

I would remind the House that municipal and strategic infrastructure in Quebec is in urgent need of major investments—and this is also true of Nunavik, in the north—given their ageing and deteriorating state. In addition to that, I would even say that there is a lack of infrastructure in the north.

The money allocated to repairing and developing infrastructure by the Quebec government and the municipalities is insufficient. On its own, the Quebec government is not in a position to increase its contribution enough to make up for the deficit. There is such a deficit in terms of infrastructure, and the deterioration of infrastructure is so serious, that even greater investments are needed at this time in order to be able to solve the problem.

After years of modest contributions, the federal government has finally decided to invest gradually in infrastructure renewal through various programs and funds, including the gas tax transfer and the building Canada program.

Even though substantial funding is now available, needs are still great.

In addition to the amount of money allocated for infrastructure, there is another aspect of infrastructure funding that is problematic: the great number of programs now in place is threatening Quebec's ability to keep full control over choosing projects and how they are carried out. These new programs, which are all more or less targeted, are making previous agreements that recognized Quebec's authority obsolete and are requiring new one-off agreements where Quebec is having to work hard to assert its rights.

The same is true of funding for public-private partnerships, which receive federal funding based on merit. It is not up to the federal government to decide what infrastructure will be built in a public-private partnership; it is up to Quebec, which has the expertise to make such decisions.

The Bloc Québécois position on this is clear and firm: Quebec has full jurisdiction over municipal affairs under the Constitution, as well as over regional economic development. It has the authority to determine which priority projects will be most beneficial to Quebeckers, including the residents of the north, through organizations such as the Société de financement des infrastructures locales du Québec.

Currently, every federal infrastructure program targets a different clientele and has its own schedule and criteria. This is creating confusion and allowing Ottawa to set its own priorities even though the Government of Quebec and local governments have exclusive authority to do so.

It is interesting to note that in its 2007-08 budget plan, the Government of Quebec was very clear on this issue. The document states:

Moreover, to accelerate investment and make the administrative process less cumbersome, money for infrastructure should be paid to the provinces through block funding rather than through a number of administrative agreements covering specific projects.

The Bloc Québécois has consistently called on the federal government to change funding conditions so that infrastructure investments reflect ability to pay. Our proposal would have the federal government paying 50% of costs, the Government of Quebec and the provinces, 35%, and the municipalities, 15%, which would accurately reflect the ability to pay of each level of government.

The federal government collects more tax than it needs for its own responsibilities.

With the money it received from such overtaxation, it started spending in a large number of areas outside its jurisdiction: health, education, social programs, family policies, natural resources, culture and university research. Over the years, the federal government has created certain needs. At one time, it withdrew from these areas and the provincial governments were forced to look after needs that were no longer met by the federal government.

Ottawa acknowledges that the Constitution prevents it from legislating in these areas, but it claims that it can spend money in any area it wants to, without regard for the distribution of powers. That is its so-called spending power.

In the areas that Ottawa is wading into without being invited, Quebec is supposed to have complete sovereignty in the choice of programs and autonomy in funding.

In particular, this is the case for infrastructure, which—with a few exceptions such as interprovincial railways, bridges spanning the seaway and border infrastructure—are within the jurisdiction of the governments of Quebec and the provinces.

Unfortunately, and as I was just mentioning, the federal government has a longstanding tradition, which it is continuing, of interfering in provincial jurisdictions by providing funding. The motion should have been clearer. The motion should have been very clear in this regard and stated that the federal government should work cooperatively with the governments of the provinces and the Government of Quebec, but not with local communities, to resolve the infrastructure problem in the North.

InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Labrador for bringing forward this item under his private member's time.

I am pleased to hear any discussion in the House of Commons on northern issues. I look on his amendment with favour. The amendment speaks to a number of ongoing issues in terms of northern development, transportation within the north and our connections to southern Canada. All these things are extremely important.

As someone who has worked on road issues in the Northwest Territories for many years and our connections to Alberta and British Columbia, I know the difficulty we have right now.

Last summer a section of our major connection to British Columbia through Fort Nelson was closed for a month because the roadbed has completely deteriorated. This roadbed is hundreds of kilometres long and the cost of putting it in good shape is far beyond the capacity of the territorial government right now. It needs the support of the federal government. British Columbia is interested but we need to have the federal government at the table as well talking about the issues, agreeing that these are priority items and putting some dollars toward them. When we talk about shovel-ready, that is one road that could be fixed immediately.

The same situation exists with the Dempster Highway located between Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Since it was built, that roadbed has completely deteriorated. The patchwork that has been going on to keep this road link open has caused ongoing costs. It is difficult to get ahead on a road development of that magnitude because it would suck up the entire road building budget of the Government of the Northwest Territories.

We have one fairly decent highway into the Northwest Territories from Alberta. The other road link that we have looked at for years goes through Fort McMurray. I note that my colleague from Fort McMurray—Athabasca has failed to meet with me on this particular road issue for the three years I have been here. We would like to see the federal government come to the table on this issue as well.

The requirement for road improvements can be stretched right across the country, through northern Manitoba where there is a lot of interest in the linkages into Rankin and into Kitikmeot. This issue spans the entire north.

We have no leadership from the federal government on roads and have not had any for many years. Without some indication from the federal government that it wants to support northern roads and the connections to the provinces, and without the federal government actively lobbying the provinces and ensuring that they come to the table as partners in building and maintaining these roads, we will be in the same situation in the future.

Energy is another issue. For a long time the federal government invested in a bureaucracy that talked about remote communities. Natural Resources Canada did a lot of work identifying all the remote communities in Canada and their particular energy requirements. Any communities off the transmission grid or off the natural gas pipelines were considered remote communities. They are located in the northern part of provinces, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut. We need a policy from the federal government that would deal with the need to change the energy systems in these remote communities. The work was done years ago but we do not see any funds being directed toward accomplishing the kind of work that we all know is necessary.

My riding has had great success in the last two to three years with the Government of the Northwest Territories converting major buildings from fuel oil to wood pellets. This helps the forest industry in northern Alberta, which I am sure my colleagues from Alberta would agree is a good idea.

Where is the federal government in this? Where is the federal government in encouraging the transformation of northern communities from this rather expensive fuel oil, which is not good for the environment, into a reasonable product like wood pellets? Was it in the budget this time? No. We do not have leadership on energy issues throughout the north, neither north nor south of the territorial boundaries, in communities like Fort Chipewyan, Alberta and Churchill, Manitoba.

The third issue I want to touch briefly on is the northern residence tax deduction. We need tax policy. Tax policy in Canada applies south of the 60th parallel to the northern parts of the provinces and north of the 60th parallel to the three territories. The Conservative government acknowledged that there was a problem with it in the budget in 2008 by raising it by 10%. Everyone across the north wanted it raised by 50% just to keep up with the inflation that had incurred in the 20 years since it was first introduced by the Mulroney government. Taxation policies for northerners are important for the territories as well as the northern parts of the provinces.

Yes, there are requirements for the federal government to work co-operatively to build the required relationships in the northern part of our country. I would encourage the government to support this motion as well and to become proactive on the issue.

When we talk about the water issues, I speak to the Mackenzie Valley basin. For the last 12 years, after the federal government and the three provinces and two territories signed the Mackenzie Valley agreement on water, we have yet to see the federal government stand up and demand that the bilateral agreements be signed so some work can be done on water issues across western Canada. That has not happened. Once again, we see the lack of work within the federal government, co-operatively with the provinces, to make conditions better for northerners.

I have some concerns with the direction of the motion. I do not want the motion to interfere in any way with the movement of the three territories toward governance. The three territories and the federal government have a fiduciary relationship, which is still there and intact. It has not been changed. One thing about northern parts of the provinces is that they have the full protection of their provincial governments for resources and land. That does not exist in Nunavut. It is being slowly introduced in Yukon, but we need movement in that aspect.

When it comes to regulatory issues, the government has said that it does not like the way regulations work in the north. It wants to change them. Our government in the Northwest Territories has presented the federal government with the kinds of changes it sees would be required in the regulatory system. I would like to see what the federal government will do with the pragmatic and straightforward recommendations from the government of the Northwest Territories. Is the government interested in northern development of people and governance, or is it simply interested in opening up the north for further economic development?

InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I, too, compliment the member for Labrador for this important motion, which brings attention to the north and outlines its difference.

I will take a different tack than the last speaker. I will not criticize the government because it has come out in favour of the motion, supporting the north and understanding its differences. It is a motherhood statement to say that the north needs more infrastructure and transportation. It is pretty obvious. It would be astounding if any member of Parliament were to vote against the north.

That is why I was a little surprised by the statements of Bloc members. I assume they will come around. I do not think they want to write off the north. In fact, they have said that they understand the costs are higher in the north. They said on occasion that the federal government had gone over and above the province in a uncoordinated fashion. The motion would solve the problem they identified. It talks about co-operation. The mover said that there was no impingement on jurisdiction and that everyone needed to work together and make their contributions to this.

The northern part of Canada includes three territories, Nunavik, in northern Quebec, Labrador and the northern part of seven provinces.

There are 308 members of Parliament, but almost 40% of the country is represented by three members. In the northern half of provinces in the north there may be only a dozen members out of 308. The member for Labrador has raised a wonderful opportunity for the north to be represented. It is also wonderful that all parties, with the exception of the Bloc, which I hope will change its mind, support the motion.

Why are members of Parliament supporting this? What special strategy is required? I think most members of Parliament know, but for the public, I will go over some of the items.

First, the north has a very harsh climate, which impinges on infrastructure and transportation. There is constantly shifting permafrost. It buckles sewer pipes. It makes potholes in the road. Construction is made more difficult when the temperatures are -40°. There is a very short building season. There are all kinds of problems because of the climate. Because of climate change, this has actually been exacerbated. Solutions came forward for building on permafrost, for instance, having foundations with open houses underneath the screening so the land would stay frozen. Now it is melting. Administration buildings and roads are collapsing, which I will talk about a bit later. There are even more challenges in the north today.

Another is difference is there are very few taxpayers. There are 100,00 taxpayers in three territories. My riding has 1,000 taxpayers. The base is not enough to pay for the necessary infrastructure. Because of the long distances in that jurisdiction, very few taxpayers are served by this infrastructure. We could have a 10 kilometre road in Toronto servicing a million people, who pay $10 of their taxes for infrastructure. We could have a similar 10 kilometre road in the north servicing 10 people. Each of them are not going to pay $100,000 in taxes. It is not realistic. We need this goodwill and support from other members of the House.

In some areas the problem is not the difficulty of repairing these expensive roads, because there are no roads. Things we have come to accept in southern Canada, such as people going everywhere by road because the infrastructure is there, is, in a large part, not available in the north. There would be huge development costs to make these roads available.

I want to talk about aboriginal people for a moment. A large percentage of aboriginal live in the north. Traditionally they have had even less infrastructure provided to them than people living in other parts of the north. Because there are higher proportions, it exacerbates the deficit of public and transportation infrastructure even more. Aboriginal communities have the same problems as other communities, such as climate change, harsh climate, permafrost and the long distances. However, on top of that, they have less revenues. In fact, infrastructure is normally a result of grants by provinces to municipalities. The first nations quite often do not get that same size of grant, or any grant at all, on occasion.

The second big source for municipal infrastructure is from property taxes paid by owners, but in aboriginal communities they have a different social structure, a different organizational method for their society. There are no property owners in many of their communities. They have a collective society. They do not have that source of revenue either, so we have this huge deficit.

Another item people have to remember, and which the member for Labrador so wisely put in the motion, is to involve aboriginal people in the meetings to come up with the solutions. Mandated in the constitution is a government to government relationship. It is pretty obvious that they have to be at the table. They have expressed some concerns to me about how they will access directly the present infrastructure funds in the programming, as a government to government relation, and not going through other governments to get funds that are rightfully theirs.

In the modern treaties of land claims and self-governments, these nations have in some cases more powers than the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, or other provinces, so they need to be at the table in discussions for items under their jurisdictions.

We all know there are four orders of government in Canada. When I go into schools, sometimes it is disappointing that quite often students only guess three. They get the municipal order of government and the federal and provincial orders of government, but they forget there is also now a constitutionally-created first nations order of government.

The vice-president of FCM spoke in Yukon this weekend. He said that there was still an infrastructure deficit in Canada, even after the stimulus package gets delivered. If there is a deficit for the entire country, imagine what it is for the north, with the harsh problems and challenges that I mentioned. Imagine even more what it is like for the aboriginal communities in the north.

Transportation is very important. As I said, there are very few roads in the north, especially in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Labrador and other parts of the northern provinces. A lot of supplies in Nunavik, Nunavut and NWT have to be shipped or flown in. With products costing five times as much, people cannot afford to live there or to have a reasonable life like the rest of Canadians.

The Liberals have always thought that what expresses our sovereignty is a happy, fulfilled, well-nourished, housed and educated people who are proud of their culture. However, if people cannot afford to live there, they will not follow the use it or lose it strategy of the government. We need to deal with the transportation problem. Improving shipping and lowering the cost of getting supplies in would be one way to do that.

This would require investment in ice warning, in charting the waters in the north, putting movable buoys in and building ports. There are no ports in most of those northern communities for ships to dock and deliver supplies, so people do not have to pay five times as much for a quart of milk.

I will quickly mention some projects in my riding for which we would like to get some support. Mining and tourism are big in the north. We have the Mayo B project and the North Carol Road and Freegold Road projects. We need more hydro. We need to eventually join the B.C. grid. We also have the road to Tuktoyaktuk, the Shakwak project, communications projects and broadband. CBC should not close its CBC a.m. tower in Whitehorse, as it was thinking of doing. Paul Martin's northern strategy, which everyone has followed, gave great attention to the north.

I am sure everyone would want to support this motion and support northerners and their needs.

InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, our government has worked and will continue to work closely with provinces and territories on helping meet the transportation and other public infrastructure needs of all our communities, including those in the north.

We are committed to working productively with all our counterparts in all provinces, territories and municipalities across Canada. We understand that it is important to have a positive working relationship with our counterparts and we are committed to maintaining that.

We have continued this relationship through the development of the building Canada plan. We consulted with all levels of government about how this could help address their infrastructure concerns, and the result was the $33 billion building Canada plan.

We understand that no single level of government is sufficient to address the diverse infrastructure needs of this country. That is why we are committed to working with all levels of government in order to develop infrastructure that will meet the needs of all Canadians.

Our infrastructure programs, like the building Canada plan, are all about multi-level partnerships and co-operation. We continue to work very closely with the provincial and territorial governments to ensure that essential infrastructure needs are being addressed and that any critical gaps are readily identified and dealt with. This collaboration is essential not only to fulfill long-term and short-term infrastructure goals and build world-class infrastructure, but to stimulate our economy and improve the quality of life of Canadians.

We have clearly demonstrated our commitment to support provincial, territorial and municipal infrastructure. While we are sensitive to the federal government's role in this, we also know that when it comes to infrastructure needs and priorities, one size does not fit all. Every region of this country is different, and some require special attention.

Northern communities face unique and challenging infrastructure issues that require unique solutions to address the harsh northern climate and the large geographical area. The harsh climate and short construction season not only affect the delivery of goods and services but increase the cost of construction and reduce the lifespan of the infrastructure.

Through various investments such as the building Canada plan, this government has ensured the necessary flexibility to support its northern partners. For example, under building Canada, funding flows to the three territories through the provincial-territorial base fund, which will see over $182 million flow to each of the territories. This is about 10 times what they would have received under a per capita allocation. Canada's economic action plan accelerates these remaining payments to provinces and territories to be made over the next two years. This provides predictable funding to help provinces and territories meet their infrastructure needs.

Through this program, this government has ensured that the investment we have made in the north can be expanded to include infrastructure considerations unique to northern needs. We understand that living in the north poses some challenges different from the remainder of the country, such as higher construction costs. Because of this, our government has ensured that it will provide more funding to its projects by covering up to 75% of the costs, as opposed to the traditional 50%.

The three territories will also receive, combined, $88.5 million under the gas tax fund to support their infrastructure. This is money directly to the bank accounts of the municipalities.

In recognition of their unique needs and smaller populations, the territories are allocated a set amount of gas tax funding, instead of the per capita gas tax funding formula operating in the provinces. In addition to funds under building Canada, municipalities will receive hundreds of millions of dollars per year from the Government of Canada through the GST rebate.

Last year, a record $1 billion in gas tax funding was sent out to Canadian municipalities. Recently we announced that the gas tax fund will double to a record-breaking $2 billion. The first payments have been moved up from June 1 to April 1, in order for more projects to get under way this year. This $2 billion annual investment will continue as a permanent measure to supplement municipalities with an additional significant and predictable source of infrastructure funding.

Our commitment to northern infrastructure is further emphasized by the government's continued co-operation in the Yukon to pursue the development of the Shakwak project and improve sections of the Alaska Highway in the territory. As 85% of Yukon's population lives in communities along the highway, this project also contributes to the economic and social well-being of the Yukon.

Since Canada's economic action plan, the government has continued to meet with provincial, territorial and municipal governments to discuss infrastructure priorities and identify shovel-ready projects. We have taken action to assist our partners to cope with the current economic downturn. We have implemented measures to stimulate the economy, create jobs, and support Canadian families.

Over the past few months, we have taken serious action by approving nearly 500 projects in small communities across the country, worth over $1.5 billion in combined funding. By expanding and accelerating our infrastructure investment, we will provide almost $12 billion additional stimulus for our economy, above and beyond our $33 billion building Canada plan--

InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I must interrupt the member at this time. She will have four minutes when debate resumes on this matter.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

I wish to inform the House that there is a bill missing from today's order paper. On page 7, there should appear a government bill in the name of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians. That bill may be introduced today. A corrigendum to that effect is available at this time. I regret any inconvenience this may have caused hon. members.

InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business



Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

On a point of order, concerning the bill missing from the order paper, could you tell us what bill it is, please?

InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The bill has been placed on notice. It has not yet been assigned a number. The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians will introduce a bill entitled An Act to amend the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

April 27th, 2009 / noon


Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON


That, in the opinion of the House, the government has failed to take all necessary steps to ensure that the US Administration and the US Congress fully understand the critical importance of our shared border to trade and economic security in both Canada and the United States; and must ensure that the Canada-U.S. border remains an efficient gateway through which our national security, personal, and commercial interests are properly promoted and defended.

Mr. Speaker, for most Canadians, when we think of the Canada-U.S. border, we think about our travel back and forth and the times we may have visited, often spontaneously.

Certainly I, as a child, when visiting my grandparents in Windsor, would often cross the Detroit border on a whim with my parents to go shopping, or sometimes we would go to Buffalo. I certainly have many constituents who will travel across the border to catch a Buffalo Bills game. It is that sort of spontaneous relationship that most people think about.

Really, we do not often stop to consider the power of our relationship and exactly what it means to both of our economies. In a time when the economy is softening, particularly here in North America but across the world, it is something important to reflect upon.

We know the United States and Canada are each other's largest trading partners, but I think it is important to reflect upon the fact that 39 of the 50 U.S. states list Canada as their number one trading partner, that 86% of Canada's exports go to the United States, yet conversely only 23% of U.S. exports go to Canada. In fact, for my home province of Ontario, that number is even larger, with 92% of Ontario exports going south to the U.S. border.

We know that 44% of the U.S. population lives within a day's drive of southern Ontario, that bilateral trade between our two countries totals $570 billion Canadian, $435 billion U.S., and that some six million jobs are directly supported by bilateral trade in both Canada and the U.S. We know Canada is the United States' largest supplier of energy. We know the Detroit-Windsor border crossing is the busiest of any border crossing in the world. We know that 300,000 travellers cross the Canada-U.S. border every day; that is some 35,000 trucks each and every day. It is a massive relationship.

I mentioned before that relationship, which so many jobs are dependent upon, particularly in southern Ontario but right across Canada. We are seeing that come under threat. Part of that threat certainly is the downturn in the economy. We know that from February 2008 until February 2009 we have seen a 20% decrease in bilateral trade between our two countries. That has had a huge impact.

No small amount of impact is being felt by the inaction of the Conservative government and its refusal to stand up on a number of key issues. I am going to start, if I can, with the western hemisphere travel initiative.

I think it is important to note that less than 30% of U.S. citizens hold a valid passport, yet the restriction that will come in this June will mean that U.S. citizens have to have a passport in order to cross our border. If we go back to the example I gave early, on regarding Canadians going south, it works with Americans coming north.

I talked about the number of people, 130 million U.S. citizens living within a day's drive of southern Ontario. A lot of them are coming to places like the Niagara region, to spend their dollars for tourism. These are not trips they plan for a long time but trips they undertake perhaps on a whim, maybe at the end of a week, saying “Let's go to a winery,” or “Let's go catch a festival at Stratford,” or “Let's go to Toronto to watch a ball game”. That kind of spontaneous travel accounts for a huge amount of trade.

With this passport restriction, there is going to be a major impediment. People who are considering spontaneous travel, instead of going to the Niagara region, as an example, are going to say, because they now require a passport, “Well, let's just stay at home or consider a U.S. option”.

Yet the options were pretty clear for the government. One clear option was the Olympics. We have the Olympics, which are going to be coming to Vancouver, and the eyes of the world are going to be focused on Vancouver and that region. One would have expected that the government would be making the argument to U.S. legislators to push off, at the very least, the implementation of this passport requirement until after the Olympics.

In fact, when I was in Washington and had the opportunity to talk with many different governors and many different congressmen and senators, a lot of them were surprised that this point had never been raised with them, that the idea of pushing it until after the Olympics was something that had not been raised by Canadian officials.

To me, that is shocking. Here is an example where we can say to the United States, “Do we want the focus of the world to be the gridlock and mayhem that will happen at the Canada-U.S. border crossing near Vancouver?”

Instead we should be trying to ensure that for all those U.S. citizens who want to come and enjoy the Olympics, to cheer on their team, they should have the opportunity to cross that border without the sudden shock of realizing they are going to be turned away because they do not have a passport.

Another point which is important to consider is that many U.S. legislators have been coming up with ideas that they themselves are surprised the government has not echoed. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter raised a couple of important ideas when I met with her. One was the idea of a day pass or a casual travel pass that would allow someone access to the country for a couple of days with some additional requirements. That has not been pursued, yet when we talk about the importance of that spontaneous travel back and forth, it is surprising it is not something that has been echoed here, that we have not reached out to her and tried to work with U.S. officials to bring that initiative forward.

In some cases the provinces have been the leaders in trying to find solutions while the federal government refuses to take action. In British Columbia, Premier Campbell has worked very closely with Governor Gregoire of Washington on developing an enhanced driver's licence. They recognized that because the federal government was refusing to take action to try to push that June date, they had to try to find an alternative solution. They worked on enhanced driver's licences. There are some privacy concerns which have to be sorted out, but at least they are taking the initiative. Why that initiative was not grabbed nationally I do not know, but certainly it has been grabbed by Premier Charest in the province of Quebec and by Premier McGuinty in the province of Ontario. They are working with their northern counterparts in the United States to actively find solutions to make sure that the June implementation will not have a devastating impact on our bilateral trade.

The area that is the biggest concern to me is the lack of the government's response to the erroneous facts we have seen emanating out of the United States for a long time. I will go over some of them, and most specifically, because it is the most recent example and because it is by homeland security Secretary Napolitano, I am going to quote from an interview she had on April 20 with CBC correspondent Neil Macdonald. Then I will talk about the government's response.

Secretary Napolitano said:

...we're no longer going to have this fiction that there's no longer a border between Canada and the United States....

I know that the pattern at the Canadian border has been informality. But borders are important for immigration purposes. They're also important for crime purposes...terrorism.

She went on to say in an address to a Washington audience:

[O]ne of the things that I think we need to be sensitive to is the very real feeling among the southern border states and on Mexico, that if things are being done on the Mexican border, they should be done on the Canadian border.

She was speaking to the issue that the Canadian border and the Mexican border should be treated with equivalence. Secretary Napolitano has repeated this again and again. It is something that is deeply concerning when we see the Americans move obviously to very extreme measures in dealing with Mexico. The idea there is any kind of equivalency would have a devastating non-tariff barrier impact on trade and obviously on travel. She said one thing of most concern in an interview and I will quote the entire passage because I think it is relevant. It starts with the reporter asking:

You know 6,000 civilians were killed in drug violence in Mexico last year. They export kidnappings. I think we can all agree that's not happening in Saskatchewan. Why the need for the same level of security on the Canadian border as the Mexican border given two drastically different realities?

Secretary Napolitano responded:

Look, the comment you read of course was taken out of context. The law doesn't differentiate. The law says the borders are the borders and these kinds of things that have to be done at the borders.

Secondly, yes, Canada is not Mexico, it doesn't have a drug war going on.... Nonetheless, to the extent that terrorists have come into our country or suspected or known terrorists have entered the country across a border, it's been across the Canadian border. There are real issues there.

That is a pretty remarkable statement. The reporter continued her questioning:

Are you talking about the 9/11 perpetrators?

Secretary Napolitano:

Not just those but others as well. So again, every country is entitled to have a border. It's part of sovereignty.

What is remarkable about this is that she does not just allude to the myth that 9/11 terrorists came across the border from Canada, which in fact is a complete falsehood, but she also talks about the extent to which terrorists enter into the U.S. by crossing the border from Canada.

The government's response on this was to say, “I don't believe there is an effort to change the level of security at the Canadian border”. That came from the public safety minister.

In fact when I questioned the minister in the House, the minister said that the secretary corrected herself. He is right. She corrected herself on one fact, in that the 9/11 terrorists did not come from Canada. Yet on all the other statements she remains steadfast. In fact, even after her statement about 9/11 in which she was extremely clear that she thought at that moment in time that the 9/11 terrorists came from Canada, she did not yield any of the other facts she quoted. In fact, even after issuing a statement correcting the 9/11 terrorist myth, she said, “There are other instances, however, when suspected terrorists have attempted to enter our country from Canada into the United States”. She also said, “Some of these are well known to the public, such as the millennium bomber, while others are not, due to security reasons”.

The millennium bomber incident was 10 years ago. That person was apprehended at the border successfully and charges were pursued. The person was dealt with and did not get across the border. The only example the Americans can point to is a decade old, an example frankly where Canada succeeded in getting the individual who was responsible.

This myth is continuing to be repeated. As late as last Friday, Senator John McCain came to Napolitano's defence by saying, “Some of the 9/11 hijackers did come from Canada, as you know”. Senator McCain who was the leader of the Republican Party is coming to Secretary Napolitano's defence by saying that her original statement was in fact accurate. In fact when I was in Washington and spoke with legislators, this myth was repeated to me several times by different congressman who said that they would like to have a more open border with Canada but they have to be careful because the 9/11 terrorists came from Canada.

This myth continues to stand out there and yet the government's response is to ignore it and to say the Americans made a correction and we do not need to worry about it, that we can move on. The government refuses to confront it.

In 2004 the 9/11 commission reported that all the 9/11 terrorists arrived in the United States from outside North America. They flew into U.S. airports and entered the U.S. with documents issued by the United States government. Of course, no 9/11 terrorists came from Canada. Yet Napolitano's predecessor, homeland secretary Michael Chertoff, said last year that more than a dozen suspected extremists had been caught trying to enter the U.S. via Canada. There is no evidence. Senator Hillary Clinton said, “There needs to be tighter security at the Canada-U.S. border because of the perceived 9/11 fall down”.

We see again and again this myth being repeated. In the United States, even the government's own ambassador has said, “It frequently comes from members of Congress. These are people who should know the difference but forget it sometimes. It is frustrating to us because we have to address it every time the matter comes up”. The ambassador has to address it because in the House of Commons we have a Minister of Public Safety who does not think there is a problem, who thinks that that correction fixes everything and that we do not need to worry about going on an offensive.

The government's silence on this issue costs us dearly because these myths pervade. Our silence and our inability to stand up and speak for our country, to defend our interests and to explain clearly that Canada has obviously taken clear action to make sure that our border is every bit as safe as the American border, that a terrorist is just as likely to fly into Cleveland to attack Boston as to fly into Toronto, that our security interests are collective, that our failure to repeat that refrain at every opportunity, to launch an all-out PR offensive is costing us dearly. It is allowing the creation of thicker and thicker borders which greatly jeopardize our trading relationship.

The other issue I want to talk about briefly, aside from all of those wrong facts and the government's inability to correct them, is the government's lack of interest in dealing with the incredible amount of profiling that is going on at the border and to deal with those individuals who are facing huge concerns.

To this day, former member of Parliament Omar Alghabra is not allowed to cross the border without being fingerprinted and photographed because he has a dual citizenship with Syria. Not so long ago, a large group of Tamil constituents were detained for some nine hours at the border. We are hearing again and again from all kinds of Canadians who are trying to cross the border that profiling is costing them dearly. Many simply are making the decision that the trip is not worth it. The government's inaction on that is deeply disturbing.

The government's real action on the border has been twofold. First, as has been broadly reported, it has made cuts to the Canada Border Services Agency. Second, it took action to arm border guards, as if that would be the solution to our trading problem. It is going to cost us around $1 billion. It is going to take 10 years. It is against the advice of the RCMP. Yet, the government continues to plow forward with arming border guards as if that somehow is going to solve all of these problems.

Of course, that is not going to solve the problem. What is going to solve the problem is doing what the government has failed to do. In their close relationship with the Republicans, the Conservatives failed to create a relationship with the Democrats when they came to power. They failed to aggressively work with the Obama administration to ensure that we move forward on some of the great initiatives we had under successive Liberal governments, whether it was the smart border initiatives or others, to expand that relationship, move it forward and see an opening of our borders.

When I talk to companies like General Motors, and we all know the problems General Motors is going through, one of the biggest problems is just in time delivery, the ability to get goods and services across the border as quickly as possible. When companies encounter these delays and see a thickening of the border, it means the viability of their operations in Canada is threatened. All of the jobs that are so dependent upon that relationship are put into peril.

Clearly, the government needs to be working much more closely with the Obama administration. It needs to be speaking with a strong voice for Canadian interests and standing up to misinformation rather than standing in the House and saying that the United States has made a minor correction and that we should not worry about it. The government needs to take these things seriously. Certainly, it needs to be diverting resources away from the wasteful billion dollar exercise of arming border guards that will not enhance security one bit and instead utilize that money to make our border more effective. The government needs to make sure that we secure the North American perimeter and make it as safe as possible.

With all of the money that has been poured into the Canada-U.S. border by the United States to try to thicken things up, one has to look at what that has led to. If one looks at the budget of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, the CBP, over the last five years it has almost doubled to $11 billion. Since September 11, 2001 it has more than quadrupled the number of border patrol agents along the northern border as well as tripled the customs inspectors to more than 5,000.

However, the Hearst group looked through public records provided by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse as a public U.S. interest group. Its analysis found that of all national security and terrorism charges filed in the federal court districts along the northern border since 2001, only three were based on referrals by the CBP. That is just referrals. All of that money spent chasing after trying to enhance and thicken the border to make it tougher to get across has led to three referrals.

Whether or not we look at the softwood lumber deal, the auto crisis, the country of origin labelling legislation, the international trafficking in arms regulation, or to our border, the government is failing. It is failing to stand up for Canadian interests. It is failing to make sure that goods and services flow freely across our border. It is costing jobs. It is time the government got the job done.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with some interest to the comments by my colleague across the way. I look forward to the discussion here today in the House on this issue.

Canada runs a trade deficit with every country in the world with the exception of our closest neighbour, the United States. Except for the powerful economy of the United States, we have a trade surplus. Our trade with the United States amounts to $380 billion, or over $1 billion a day. Canada is fortunate to have a consumer like the United States with its huge economy.

My question to the member is not designed to pit one side against the other. The Canada-U.S. border is one of the longest undefended borders in the world. There has been a considerable amount of discussion about a common continental security system. Would the member share with the House his opinion on a continental security system that would alleviate a lot of the concerns that the Americans have in regard to trade and people entering from countries all around the world?

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, the hon. member's statements speak to the reason why he and his government need to care about the statements of Homeland Secretary Napolitano. They speak to the reason why we need to change the record on these items, address them clearly, and make sure the United States understands that the falsehoods that are being spread are causing enormous damage. The politics of fear that is being used for divisive ends is causing enormous damage to Canada and to the United States.

Second, I would remind the member of the fact that while we have this great relationship, it is under peril right now. We have seen a 20% decline in just one year of that great trading relationship that the member talked about. We cannot take it for granted. We cannot ignore statements that are coming out of the United States.

With respect to continental security, the bigger issue here is a lack of understanding. Our government lacks a strong relationship with the United States, so it is not able to explain the strength of our current system, whether it is our immigration system or our ability to defend our border. This is something that we really need to focus on, so we do not need to give up our sovereignty to protect our border.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member on having moved this motion, which is of vital importance to our relationship with the United States.

Last week, I mentioned that the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, said that the terrorists involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks entered the United States through Canada. The Conservatives have a lot to say about cross-border measures, but then they turn around and cut border services. They say that they want to make our borders safer, but at the same time, they are cutting certain services.

Would the member care to comment on that?

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, borders are being thickened. The amount of money going to the Canada Border Services Agency is being cut in large part because the government is putting so much money into failed programs like the arming of border guards, which, as I said, is going to cost about $1 billion.

I have asked the Minister of Public Safety on successive days in question period why he refuses to even acknowledge that there is a problem. If he refuses to acknowledge the problem, how can he possibly fix it? If the only response of the public safety minister is to say that the secretary has corrected herself, leave it at that, and let those statements stand, then how are we ever going to get at the root of this problem?

It seems this myth, to use the words of former ambassador Frank McKenna, “has gone viral”. It is taking hold as a fact everywhere. The longer we say she made a correction so therefore we do not need to say anything, and just sit back and let this thing play out, the more damage it is going to do. We have to understand that this is not some arbitrary notion. This has a real impact and meaning for people's jobs and for our economy.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I first want to congratulate the member for his resolution. I agree with him that it is very frustrating to deal with the Americans on these issues. They are referring to the case of Ahmed Ressam, which is now 10 years old. They in fact caught him when he tried to bring explosives across the B.C. border. I believe his intention was to try to blow up the airport in Los Angeles.

I have been dealing with this issue through the Midwestern Legislative Conference for a few years. We have to keep vigilant and keep pushing the point that in fact the answer is not to thicken the border. Certainly, legislators in the midwestern United States know that there are wide open expanses of area where people like Ahmed Ressam could cross the border. We cannot possibly be policing every square inch of the border.

I want to deal with the issue of the passport office. The B.C. and Manitoba provincial governments are bringing in enhanced driver's licences when in fact the passport office under the present government should have been doing something for the last couple of years to get ready for the problem we are going to have in July.

In Manitoba very few people are actually taking up the government on enhanced driver's licences because--

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Ajax—Pickering.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for what was leading into an excellent question. I know where he was headed and it is an incredibly important point.

It is not as though this jumped on us, as if the western hemisphere travel initiative was new news and we had no time to respond or to try to seek a different path. The reality is that this has been out there for a very long time. Because there was a complete lack of federal leadership in finding a solution, it was left to the provinces to try to piece together whatever solution they could.

As much as the enhanced driver's licence is a good initiative, it is very hard to make it work. We are hearing from Governor Gregoire who very much wants to see that work but understands that Washington, where there will be so much traffic to the Olympics, is going to face huge problems.

As I asked before, why will the government not publicly state and demand that this be pushed until after the Olympics, as a bare minimum, so we do not face that nightmare, which would give us a little more time to implement solutions so that we do not have a massive impact of the casual trading relationship we have?

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was in Washington this time last week and heard the secretary give those rather offensive comments. Four of us were in the audience when she spoke. It was deeply disturbing.

It is deeply disturbing to hear it at the congressional or senatorial level. It is even more disturbing to hear it from the most important official in the administration with respect to Canada, far more important than Secretary Clinton, far more important, frankly, than the U.S. ambassador. This is the key person making these outrageous and ill-informed comments. One would have hoped that it would be better under this administration.

I want to contrast the response of the government. The minister said he shared a chuckle with Napolitano as opposed to the Liberal leader who went to Washington last week and specifically rebuked the comments of the secretary. I wonder if the hon. member would be prepared to comment on that.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. Leader of the Opposition has done exactly the right thing, something, frankly, we would expect of the government, which is to go there, have direct conversations, call this out and say it is wrong. We cannot be afraid to stand up for our country. We cannot be afraid to challenge notions like this because when they pervade, they cause enormous damage.

When the public safety minister was before our committee, he said that he had a casual call that lasted a few minutes when we knew there was a process that Secretary Napolitano was working on to devise the strategy for borders. Instead, we would expect the minister to be in the United States having meetings with Secretary Napolitano and U.S. officials to correct the record on this, to see that the government goes on an aggressive PR blitz to make sure the record is set straight.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Oxford Ontario


Dave MacKenzie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate on the motion of the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering.

I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for York—Simcoe.

Canada is by far the most important security and trading partner of the United States. It is worth outlining some of the basic facts associated with this mutually beneficial border relationship. Every day, nearly $1.1 billion worth of two-way trade crosses the world's longest, undefended border. That amounts to almost $400 billion in trade each year.

It should also be noted that Canada represents the single, largest export market for 36 states. Nearly seven million U.S. jobs and three million Canadian jobs are directly supported by trade between Canada and the United States.

More than 300,000 people cross the border every single day for travel or business. This government is taking and has taken the necessary steps to ensure the new Obama administration and the U.S. Congress fully understand the critical importance of our shared border to the trade and economic security of both our great nations. Our government has taken considerable efforts already to ensure that this message is received south of the border. Moreover, our government will continue to champion this message over the coming months and years.

I would therefore like to use the time allotted to me to set the record straight on a number of fronts. Hon. members of the House will know that when our Prime Minister met with President Obama, he stressed the importance of trade between our two countries and emphasized that Canada is a secure partner to the United States. It is fair to suggest that we can be optimistic that there is a new tone and a new opportunity for Canada with the Obama administration.

The member opposite seems to be troubled by the fact that we have been able to nurture and develop a cooperative relationship with the Obama administration. I fail to understand why we would want to create and foster an antagonistic relationship with our friends to the south. We need to work with the new administration, to open our arms and embrace it, not criticize, chastise or ridicule it as we saw the leader of the Liberal Party do last week during the course of his visit to Washington.

This partnership and friendship in itself is vital to ensure that mutually beneficial security measures do not unnecessarily impede legal trade between our two countries. That is why, following their meeting in February, the Prime Minister and President Obama instructed their senior officials to meet at an early date to develop strategies to enhance our collective security in North America, which included a review of the management of the Canada-U.S. border.

The Minister of Public Safety has subsequently met with Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder, and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan. It was an opportunity for the minister to build upon an agenda of cooperation between Canada and the United States, one that advances our shared interests and ensures that measures taken at the border contribute to both our security and our mutual economic prosperity. Those meetings afforded the minister an opportunity to express that Canadian security interests extend to all of the citizens of North America. As I am sharing my time with the minister, I will allow him to describe in greater detail the nature of these meetings.

Bilateral meetings are only one way that our government has been working to engage the new administration. As well, the government is working very closely with the new U.S. administration to implement a number of joint security measures at our border. All of us know that one of the best ways to underline the importance of our border to both trade and security is to work on joint initiatives which serve to strengthen the ties between our two countries and to ensure that we are working in harmony with one another.

In this regard, our government has strongly supported the work of the cross-border crime forum. The mandate of the cross-border crime forum is to serve as a forum in which Canadian and United States law enforcement and justice officials from the federal, state, provincial, territorial and municipal governments can identify major issues and national policy priorities related to the problem of transnational crime and terrorism.

The work of the forum addresses broad law enforcement and national security issues that affect both countries, including illicit drugs, counterterrorism, identity theft, firearms trafficking, mass marketing fraud, human trafficking and organized crime.

This forum, co-chaired by the Minister of Public Safety with the Canadian Minister of Justice and the U.S. attorney general, will have enhanced partnerships with our security and law enforcement counterparts in the United States.

There is an increased awareness of the respective Canadian and U.S. justice and law enforcement systems. We have created legislative and policy frameworks to address operational needs.

Additionally, we have developed action plans and threat assessments to help us respond to emerging threats as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Each annual meeting of the cross-border crime forum culminates with a ministerial forum co-chaired by the Minister of Public Safety, with the Canadian Minister of Justice and the U.S. Attorney General. A high level meeting such as this provides yet another opportunity for the top officials from both countries to keep each other abreast of the latest developments. The next ministerial form will take place this fall.

We can rest assured that Canada avails itself of this and other opportunities to keep the U.S. administration informed of our interests.

Currently, six working groups drive the agenda of the cross-border crime forum. To give just a few examples of this work in action, the cross-border enforcement group has developed joint threat assessments to identify the areas of highest priority to concentrate the efforts of our integrated border enforcement teams. The counterterrorism group participates in personnel exchanges to heighten co-operation between the RCMP and the FBI. The mass marketing fraud group is using intelligence from recent threat assessments to target top echelon criminal organizations to protect citizens of both Canada and the United States. Other groups are pursuing priorities related to drugs and organized crime, firearms trafficking and prosecutions.

These integrated border enforcement teams, or IBETs, that I mentioned, and their expansion, is one of the most significant advances of the cross-border crime forum. These teams, strategically located at 24 areas across the border, are comprised of both Canadian and U.S. law enforcement officers. Together, they develop and share intelligence to combat cross-border smuggling, illegal immigration and organized crime.

In 2008, for example, IBETs made more than 400 seizures of narcotics and contraband tobacco and recovered more than $5 million in currency believed to be the proceeds of crime. What is more, they apprehended more than 1,300 illegal migrants attempting to enter the border between ports of entry.

The integrated cross-border maritime law enforcement initiative, commonly referred to as the “shiprider” initiative, is another example of enhanced border co-operation. Through this innovative policing model, specifically, trained RCMP and U.S. Coast Guard officers patrol the waterways and enforce the law on both sides of the marine border. Following the success of two pilot projects in 2008, Canada and the U.S. launched negotiations to develop a framework to formalize shiprider operations, negotiations which are very close to being completed.

Finally, I want to mention another project currently under development that underscores the level of co-operation between Canadian partners to enhance the integrity of the border.

In consultation with law enforcement partners, the RCMP and CBSA are examining a possible pilot project to enhance security at the U.S. border in Quebec. This project would complement and build on the network of IBETs and would target both unguarded border roads and marine crossings within the province of Quebec.

All these initiatives represent the Government of Canada's ongoing and earnest commitment to strengthen co-operation with the United States on border management. I stress the word “ongoing” because bilateral co-operation is always a work in progress.

By contrast, the motion before this House suggests that effective border management results from a finite number of necessary steps. This, quite frankly, is short-sighted and a paint-by-numbers approach to bilateral relations.

This government recognizes that our exceptional and enviable relationship with the U.S. demands constant attention to changing circumstances and priorities. We are determined to do and to keep doing everything possible to promote greater co-operation, greater understanding, a more efficient gateway and a greater friendship between Canada and the United States on all issues affecting our shared border.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I know the hon. member is a very hard-working and capable parliamentary secretary, which is why I have a question for him.

With regard to the statement made by Madam Napolitano and not having been objected to strenuously by the government, is he satisfied that more work needs to be done or that everything is okay? Is he subscribing to the northern version of “Don't worry, it's okay”? We on this side and many people in Canada are worried that that comment, although having been withdrawn and explained, has done harm to the image of Canada internationally. What further steps does he think should be taken by the government to correct the impression, the imagine left by those remarks, if any?